Mitsubishi Motors UK driver Ryan Champion beat an all-star cast of British Rally Champions to win the first round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship, Carlisle's Pirelli International Rally.

Champion, ironically not a former BRC Champion himself, beat seven drivers who have lifted the prestigious title in an epic battle played out in the treacherous 'Killer Kielder' Forest. He braved the majority of the stages on the final day of the two-day event minus a sump guard but somehow emerged unscathed to take his victory.
"We lost the sump guard two stages before P-Zero it came off and we have to be a bit careful on the jumps and dips, but suddenly we have ended up in the lead," said Champion. "I’m pleased with the last two stages, to take a bit of time off Mark. There wasn’t a lot left on that last one. I’m very pleased, it's been a step up for me this year and hopefully I have proved we can be competitive all year."
Reigning champion Mark Higgins in the Stobart VK Subaru had dominated the first day but suffered two punctures on the morning of the final day and ended the rally thirteen seconds adrift of Champion.
"Everything was looking good on Saturday but then it just shows how close it was," said Higgins. "But to get second place with such a competitive field as there was is still a great result. I was pushing hard at the end and there were a few big moments. Fair play to Ryan, he drove well."
Welsh 1996 BRC champion Gwyndaf Evans in the SJR Hankook Mitsubishi Evo IX took third place in his first real rally for over a year. He ended the event just eight seconds away from Mark Higgins and would have won the event were it not for a 40secs penalty sustained on Sunday morning.
"I was very disappointed in the morning, we lost forty seconds with the clutch change and for that reason we were out the race," said Gwyndaf. "Purely on stage times we would have won the event but the problem with the clutch has made the difference and dropped us back. Still, I'm glad to have had a good weekend."
Suzuki's Guy Gilks led the S1600 runners for the majority of the rally and featured strongly in the top ten but cruel fate intervened within sight of the finish when Wilks' was forced to retire within sight of the final stage.
"We were coming through Chirdonhead and the engine warning light came one showing a high temp and we were losing power," explained Wilks. "We backed it off until the end of the stage but on the road section the temperature was not going down. We thought it might be a dodgy thermostat and had to keep driving but in the end head the gasket went."
The retirement handed victory to Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Barry Clark who scored the first win for a Fiesta S1600 in the UK. "It was quite a difficult event coming from our production car last year," said Clark, who is co-driven by Scott Martin. "It's a very different proposition driving the S1600 in the tricky forests, so overall it's a great local victory for the Stobart team. Scott was great on the notes and everything worked well."
Top ten overall finishers
1. Ryan Champion / Craig Thorley Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 45min 37.8secs
2. Mark Higgins / Rory Kennedy Subaru Impreza 1hr 45min 50.6secs
3. Gwyndaf Evans / Huw Lewis Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 45min 58.4secs
4. David Higgins / Ieuan Thomas Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 46min 56.6secs
5. Jonny Milner / Nick Beech Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 47min 16.6secs
6. Phillip Morrow / Daniel Barritt Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 47min 30.1secs
7. Alister McRae / Gordon Nobel Subaru Impreza N12 1hr 48min 38.1secs
8. Julian Reynolds / Stewart Merry Subaru Impreza 1hr 48min 55.6secs
9. Stuart Jones / Craig Barry Mitsubishi Evo IX 1hr 49min 08.1secs
10. Conrad Rautenbach / David Senior Subaru Impreza 1hr 49min 15.9secs
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